How To Get Your Book Rights Back And Why You Should
For any author who has received a publishing contract, you know you’re signing away a lot of rights. For some, that might be a good thing. You’re too busy with your life to be bothered with a lot of the details and just want to see your books in bookstores. Or, you’re an author wrapped up in the idea of “validation” that the gatekeepers of publishing accepted your work. Neither of these scenarios are inherently bad, but what happens when your publishing “season” is over? Authors who receive advances have a finite amount of time to prove their worth by promoting the book enough that it sells. If not, then according to the traditional model, the book is a failure and your next contract with that publisher hangs in the balance.
The traditional model of publishing follows the new, shiny books while they leave other mid-list books to struggle to survive…and most of them do not.
But can those books survive another way?
In a publishing contract, the reversion clause gives authors the opportunity to take back some or all of their book rights when thresholds are met. The thresholds depend on the contract. Most have a time limit (i.e. seven years after publication), a unit number (250 units sold in the last twelve months) or monetary threshold (less than $500 in the last two royalty statements). While these measurements run the gamut, they dictate how you will get your books back.
Why you should get your book rights back
Why should you request a reversion of rights? Here are some reasons to do so.
- You’re getting little to no royalties. This is one of the most frustrating parts of an author’s career. You spent so much time in this story, and when left in someone else’s hands, it doesn’t reach the audience you want, or it’s replaced quickly by a new book in the next season.
- You can claim all the control over your book. When you’re with a publisher, they control who edits the book, what cover the book needs, and some of the marketing. The methods that self-publishers use (discounted or free sales, series promotions, advertisements, etc.) aren’t available to you unless you pay for it or get them to agree to your request.
- You can exercise sub-rights. By getting any of your book rights back you can exercise control of them. For instance, I was a digital-first author for all of my previous contracts, so I rarely saw a physical or audio version of my books (in fact, eleven out of my thirteen books are only available in e-book format). When you get your rights back, you can publish in as many formats as your heart desires, whether that is paperback, hardback, audiobook or large print.
- You have the opportunity to find new readers. With most publishing contracts, your book has been out for several years prior to reversion eligibility. As I mentioned, the model for most publishers is promoting the front list, books that are new and current on a publisher’s list. With rights reversion– and the fact that you’re older and wiser about the publication process — you can dust this book off and shine it up for new readers.
How to get your rights back
Asking for your rights back is easy enough as drafting a letter requesting the reversion of rights from your editor or the contracts department, depending on your publisher. This letter should cite the contract, title, and sub-rights that you want reverted, along with the thresholds in the contract that the book has met. It doesn’t have to be a manifesto and you can easily email it within a few minutes of writing.
While that is the easy part, the waiting isn’t.
Sometimes publishers need to take these requests to meetings and/or review statements to ensure that an author is within the proper thresholds to grant a reversion of rights.
While you’re waiting, you can dream up the ways your book will live on with you in control and reaping all the benefits of being a publisher. Once you get that letter back, it’s time to start a new life for your book, and the rewards are so much sweeter.
Learn more about rights reversion and how to take control of your books in “Take Back Your Book: An Author’s Guide to Rights Reversion and Publishing On Your Terms” by Katlyn Duncan.